Let me start at the beginning. I grew up incredibly independent and rebellious. I made my own way, did my own thing. I took care of myself. In my own self sufficient way I worked things out and didn’t see a need for Jesus. I learned early that I could count on me, that’s it.
In fact, going to church wasn’t on my radar until I met my husband and moved to the small town where he grew up. Upon moving to this close knit community I realized I would have a difficult time finding my place. Complicating the adjustment for me was losing part of my independence. I was no longer me but rather I was known through my husband and his family. In an attempt to start to fit in I accepted an invitation to the local church. I was nervous before I even entered the building. I didn’t know what I was supposed to wear or how I was supposed to act. After opening the double doors I was greeted by a man handing out programs. Butterflies started to overwhelm my stomach as I worked my way to a seat. I received a combination of strange looks and awkward smiles. The church was small and contained several rows of pews. Curtains framed the front of the church and above the wall above the small stage area read “It is not about us, it is all about God.” It was strange at first and I totally felt like an outsider but I loved the message. I loved going to hear about the bible and about the ways Jesus lived, loved, and died for me.
After weeks of attendance, a few seasoned church members reached out to me. They said they wanted to help me understand what it was like to be a Christian and suggested we start a bible study with just me and them. I learned a lot during our time together but the biggest part of my new religion I gained was my “to- do list.” My life now required me to have daily study time with Jesus, learn/memorize scriptures, and attend church very regularly. One evening I attended a session where they ended by telling me that living with my boyfriend, my now husband, was sinful and that Jesus doesn't like for people to live together if they aren't married. They told me that I had to move out of my house and they said I could live with them until we got married. We weren't even engaged yet and I didn’t know what to do! I didn't feel comfortable living with people I barely knew. I was so new to religion and I didn’t know that living with someone before marriage was viewed as bad by the church. I got the message that God was angry with me. I went home in tears and told my boyfriend, at the time, what happened. He was as devastated as I was. We both felt like we were unworthy of God and that we were majorly disappointing him. He decided he would move out and live with his parents until we figured out what to do. I was so hurt; I felt unloved by God and judged by the church.
I continued to go to the church where we were learning about being baptized and I desired to show the world that I was now a believer in Jesus. I wanted to participate in this event to proclaim my love for Jesus! When I expressed a desire to be part of the next baptism the church told me I needed to resolve the issue with my boyfriend and living together before I moved forward with a baptism. I was told that my life needed to reflect Godly change before I could go through with a baptism. The pastor came back a few days later and said he changed his mind and he would baptize me since my boyfriend and I weren't living together. I decided against it. I didn't want to go through being baptized until I was good enough for God. I waited until after we were married as not to be judged by the masses. Again, I felt not good enough to be part of God's family or the church. In the meantime, my boyfriend decided to "make things right" and propose. I was so excited but looking back I can't help but feel a little like it was a push from the church. I know that he wanted to marry me and to spend his life with me (and still does) but our engagement and marriage was rushed. We were engaged and married all within three months!
I am not blaming the church or trying to be negative but these events whether right or wrong set the tone for my walk with Jesus. My religion was very important to me. I attended conferences, bible study, Sunday school and church. I woke up an hour early everyday so I could spend time reading my bible. The more I did the less I felt worthy of God. I constantly saw my imperfections and shortcomings. I was terrified the church would find out how "bad" of a job I was doing. It scared me to divulge anything about my past because I never wanted them to find out how "terrible" I had been. Instead, I became judgmental toward other people to make myself feel better. I hid behind my religion.
After a few years I was tired, discontent, and frustrated. I blamed a lot of things including my job. So, I decided to go back to school. God lead me to a Christian University that made me take biblical classes as part of the curriculum. I learned that Jesus doesn’t want a religion from me but wants a relationship! My spiritual life came alive. My obligations from my “to do list” disappeared and a genuine desire to find Jesus sprung from within me. Even the classes that were not specifically biblically based showed me how to take what I was learning and see it from God's perspective. It seems like before I was reading different scripture through a lens of oppression and judgment. I was now able to see God’s grace and forgiveness. Not only that but I was able to make the decision to take off my black judge robe, turn in my gavel, and resign from my bench. I was so occupied with Jesus that judging other people wasn't really something I thought about much.
Not long ago I graduated from school and the pastor from our church (and youth pastor) stepped down from leadership due to disagreements about the direction of the church. I feel somewhat lost. Right now I am technically still part of the church but I struggle going. I feel judged and hurt when I attend. Don’t get me wrong the church is full of wonderful people and many have a great heart for the Lord. It’s just, I am not sure how to work past this or if I need to find a different church. Changing my place of worship is a big decision but I know that avoiding my Sunday morning appointment to worship God isn't really working either. I desire to be in a place where I can express my love for God but I am torn. Not to mention, I am severely limited in my choices. Right now, to fulfill my need for Jesus each week (each day, moment really) I listen to pod casts and do bible studies like those from Proverbs 31 ministries. I can't help but miss the Sunday morning music and message.